A federal judge granted summary judgment in favor of a gas driller in a case in which a landowner objected to drilling within the meadow in which she had scattered her husband’s ashes because there was no evidence that the objection was made on time.
Plaintiff Lori J. Meeko, a Bradford County, Pa., landowner who contracted in April 2008 for her 67 acres of land to be developed for gas and oil drilling, sued Southwestern Energy Production for breach of contract and other causes of action. An addendum to the lease provides that Meeko reserved the right to approve the location of all well sites, access roads “and related appliances constructed or installed on the leased premises.”
U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo of the Middle District of Pennsylvania found that Southwestern was entitled to summary judgment, having satisfied the company’s burden of demonstrating the lack of a genuine issue of fact.
While Meeko had the right to approve the location of well sites, Meeko did not demonstrate that she proposed to move the well site boundaries or designated an alternative well site within a reasonable distance of the selected site within five days after she received a map identifying the proposed well location, Caputo said.
“Ms. Meeko consented to the location by her inaction,” the judge said in a memorandum opinion Thursday, adopting recommendations made by Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt.
The lease signed by Meeko was assigned from Elexco Land Services to Southwestern in May 2009, according to the opinion.
Southwestern’s agent, Frank McSloy, contacted Meeko about putting a well on her property in January 2011, Caputo said. Meeko informed McSloy that she would not agree to having a well pad placed in a 30-acre meadow between her home and a pond on the premises, which is where her husband’s ashes were scattered.
According to the plaintiff, when McSloy met with Meeko on January 22, 2011, Meeko reviewed a map showing the proposed location of the well pad to be in the meadow between her home and the pond, and Meeko refused to countersign the letter, because she wanted an attorney to review the letter and because she did not have her glasses with her. But Meeko agreed to countersign another document that McSloy represented as solely a letter authorizing entry on her property for conducting a wetlands analysis. The plaintiff later learned that the letter actually authorized the well pad site in the meadow, according to the plaintiff’s contentions.
According to the defendant, Southwestern sent Meeko a letter identifying the location for a proposed well pad by January 19, 2011, and the letter said that Meeko needed to respond within five days if she proposed to move the boundaries or designate an alternative well pad site within a reasonable distance of the selected site in the meadow. Southwestern said it would assume Meeko had no objections to the selected well site if the company did not receive a phone call or written notice. During McSloy’s meeting with Meeko, according to the defendant, Meeko countersigned the letter without suggesting that she had difficulty reading it, needed her glasses or that she wished to have the letter reviewed by her lawyers.
Southwestern argued that even if Meeko’s signature on the letter is not considered based on the dispute “as to whether Mr. McSloy improperly induced her to countersign the letter,” there was no evidence that Meeko timely and properly objected to the proposed well location within five days of receiving the company’s letter with the proposed drilling site.
There is some dispute of nonmaterial facts still outstanding, including whether McSloy represented to Meeko that the letter she countersigned only had to do with a wetlands analysis; if Meeko refused to sign the letter because she did not have her glasses with her; or whether Meeko indicated that she wanted a lawyer to review the letter, Caputo said.
The material facts that were not rebutted by Meeko include that Meeko received the letter no later than January 19, 2011; that Meeko met with McSloy at her property January 22, 2011, and received a map of the location of the proposed well site at that meeting; and that the letter required objections and proposed changes within five days of the receipt of the letter.
While Meeko argued she “‘vehemently told Mr. McSloy that she would never agree to the placement of the well pad between her home and the pond,’” the judge said “the unsubstantiated statement in Ms. Meeko’s counterstatement of facts, though, is not concrete, does not establish that she objected to the proposed well location during the January 22, 2011, meeting, and does not demonstrate a dispute of fact as to whether she conveyed an objection to Mr. McSloy during the meeting.”
Only the breach of contract cause of action remained after the deadline for the plaintiff to respond to Southwestern’s motion to dismiss regarding fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims came and went without being met, the judge said.
Meeko’s attorney did not comply with Middle District of Pennsylvania Local Rule 56.1, which requires a counterstatement of material facts to respond paragraph-by-paragraph to Southwestern’s statement of facts, Caputo said.
Caputo did disagree with the magistrate judge’s decision to disregard Meeko’s personal knowledge as set forth in her complaint. “The statements should not have been disregarded simply because they were contained in the verified complaint instead of a separate affidavit,” the judge said.
Meeko’s attorney, Edwin A. Abrahamsen Jr. of Abrahamsen, Conaboy & Abrahamsen in Scranton, and one of Southwestern’s attorneys, George A. Bibikos of K&L Gates in Harrisburg, did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
(Copies of the 18-page opinion in Meeko v. Southwestern Energy Production, PICS No. 12-2434, are available from The Legal Intelligencer. Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information.) •